When Stanley Franks is told he has 1500 words left to live, he faces a battle to keep both his marriage and himself alive using the fewest words possible.
Downbeat and dark-toned tend not to be the first choices of a director making a comedy. But despite this, Andrew Chaplin’s direction of James Menzies’ script takes full advantage of the bleakness of the premise and adds a dark gallows humour to the story.
Opening on an impressively executed crane shot of a doctor’s office, the subtle use of darkness and shadow provides an ominous tone that foreshadows the terrible news that Marcus Garvey’s Stanley Franks is about to receive. Without losing the established tone, Stanley is given the expected bad news, which at once establishes the comedy and takes both Stanley and the audience by surprise. Stanley’s terminal condition is that he only has 1500 words left to live. He then proceeds, in a fit of disbelief, in a sequence underpinned by the dry wit of Michael Smiley’s narration, to waste almost all of them.
Key to the comedy of this opening sequence is the doctor, delivering the bad news, played by ‘Man Down’ and ‘Drunk History’ regular Mike Wozniak. Shifting subtly from the prototypical empathetic doctor at the start of the sequence, to being utterly unmoved by Stanley’s dramatic reaction to his terminal diagnosis, Wozniak shows off his mastery of understated deadpan comedy as he nonchalantly (but helpfully) whips out a counter and clicks away as Stanley foolishly (but understandably) wastes his remaining words on his futile outburst.
Eventually Stanley has to return home and deliver the bad news to his wife Julia, played with an everywoman familiarity and charm by Eri Jackson. After going through various scenarios in how he would explain the situation to Julia with his few remaining words, Stanley simply opts not to tell her and see how things go. This is where the dramatic heft of the story kicks in and Chaplin does well to present the drama in a manner that compliments the comedy, rather than detracts from it.
A few humourous observations are offered here, including an informative chart displaying the percentage of a relationship that actually requires verbal communication. This leads to Stanley adopting a method of avoiding facing his very real problems, which while hilariously weird, actually give rise to the crux of Stanley’s journey. Rather than being upfront and honest with his partner and going through the difficult, but ultimately more healthy process of bearing the weight of the situation together, he instead chooses to put walls between them and inject dishonesty into their relationship, the consequences of which are brought home in the sobering final third of the film.
All of the film’s most successful elements combine in the film’s final moments; the acceptance of the inevitable, the absurd hilarity of the premise, the realisation that it was fear, not consideration for your loved ones that caused you to do something stupid while genuinely thinking that it was a good idea.
Ultimately, this is a story about reconciling mistakes and Andrew Chaplin guides a fantastic cast to performances that do a wonderful job of encapsulating this idea. ‘1500 Words’ is a comedy with serious heart.
Studio: Hungry Bear Media
Duration: 9 mins
Suitability: Advisory – Infrequent use of strong language
Director: Andrew Chaplin
Writer: James Menzies